Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 94 in g major, second movement

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Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 94 in G Major, second movement

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), born at Rohrau, Austria, began his musical studies in the choir-school of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. In 1761, he received a position in the court of Prince Nicholaus Esterházy. He spent the next thirty years of his life in their service, presenting daily orchestral concerts and at least two operatic performances each week. By the 1780s, the Prince was forced by demands from the public to release Haydn from the terms of his contract, specifying that he would compose for no one but them. He began to publish his pieces, at first works for piano and string quartet, a genre that he is credited as creating. At the invitation of J. P. Salomon, he visited London in 1791 and 1794 and composed twelve symphonies that were presented at public concerts. He was recognized as the greatest musician of the day, and the University of Oxford honored him with the degree of Doctor of Music.

Haydn’s London concerts were a sign of a momentous change in the public life of composers. His music was performed for an admiring London public, and his symphonies were received warmly; in several of the performances the audience demanded encores of individual movements. He was no longer a high-class servant of the nobility, as most composers and musicians had been up to that time; he was a free-lance composer regarded admiringly by the public.

Listening Tips:

The second movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 94 (“Surprise”) is a theme and variations form, in which a theme is presented and changed in the ensuing variation section. The folk-like, staccato theme begins softly but is punctuated by a sudden loud chord, the surprise inserted by Haydn supposedly to awaken sleeping audience members. The effect was quite the opposite; some ladies were said to have fainted. In the four variations, the theme is changed in instrumentation, dynamics, rhythm, and melody. Sometimes the original melody is accompanied by another melody, a countermelody. In one variation the theme is presented in minor instead of major. The theme consists of two parts, sections a and b, each of which is repeated. This pattern is usually retained in the variations.

Listening Guide:


Theme - section a

Section a: Violins


section a

Section a is repeated. Surprise chord at the end of the a section,


section b

Section b: Violins. New melody.


section b

Section b repeated


Variation I

Countermelody in violins


Variation II

Transformation to minor


Variation III

Theme in faster repeated notes. Countermelody present in sections.


Variation IV

Rhythmically vigorous theme changes character as variation proceeds


Closing section

Based on theme but different from a variation. Melodic structure is altered.



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